My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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Why I started keeping a daily “one-sentence journal” (ok, a not-quite daily journal).

August 1 marked the first anniversary of my One-Sentence Journal.

For a long time, I’d been alarmed by how little I remembered about my own past. In particular, because one of my resolutions is to “Appreciate this time of life,” I felt the impulse to keep a record of the pattern of our days (not to mention the funny things my children said) so I’d remember this time of life later.

The idea of keeping a proper journal was far too daunting, so I decided instead to keep a “one-sentence journal.”

Each night, I write one sentence (well, actually, usually it’s three or four sentences, but by calling it a “one sentence journal” I keep my expectations realistic) about what happened that day to me, the Big Man, and the girls.

Right now, I can’t imagine forgetting the time when the Little Girl said politely, “Can I have some more pajamas on my pasta?” when she meant “parmesan,” but I will, I will.

And I’ll forget what it was like to have a child who still sleeps in a crib, or one who is reading Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays for the first time. I’ll forget the huge amount of meat that the Big Man once grilled in a single evening.

My hope is that, years from now, when I’m trying to remember what life was like at this point, I can look back at my one-sentence journal.

Of course, I’ve missed a lot of days. Although I’ve been trying to keep it up for a year, it still hasn’t quite solidified into a habit. I’ve let ten days go by, without thinking about the journal once. But still, I’ve managed to get a lot of memories down on paper.

When I get back from vacation, I’m going to use my beloved Lulu.com to print out three “books” of the journal’s first year – one for the Big Man and me, one for each of the girls.

My path-breaking happiness formula holds that to be happy, you must think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

Keeping this journal is a project that adds to my happiness in all of these ways: it helps keep happy memories vivid (because I’m much more inclined to write about happy events than unhappy events); it gives me a reason to thinking lovingly about my family; it’s manageable, so it doesn’t make me feel burdened; it makes me feel like a good mother who is passing happy memories along to my children; and it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and progress.

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Once again: LifeRemix!

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This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Samuel Johnson.

“Sir, it is surprising how people will go to a distance for what they may have at home.” –Samuel Johnson.

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Here on vacation, where I rejoice to find my favorite brand of salsa in the store or WiFi at the library, I think of this remark by Johnson. And laugh at myself.

Searching for a way to make the world look more beautiful?

Being on vacation makes it easier to see the world in a different way, and one thing I’m trying to do – now, and when I get back home – is to notice the light.

The sun’s strength at different times of day – the shapes and colors of clouds – the clarity of the atmosphere – shadows – moonlight – I’m making a conscious effort to notice and appreciate it all.

In his extraordinary essay on painting, Painting as a Pastime, Winston Churchill wrote about the pleasure he got from noticing colors and light, and also the relief from anxiety that this kind of detached, aesthetic pleasure gave him.

Paying attention to light makes every possible vista more beautiful. Try it. Look at even a dull or ugly scene, and focus on the quality of the light. The view suddenly looks far more compelling and lovely.

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If you’re looking for some useful life hacks, interesting insights, or just something fun to read, check out LifeRemix. Full disclosure: I’m a contributor!

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Why it’s worth making an effort to keep in touch with old friends.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about friendship. Studies show that having close relationships is one of the absolute key elements to a happy life. One of my goals is to make new friends, but perhaps an even more important goal is to try to stay close to the friends I already have.

With this in mind, when two of my college roommates ended up on the East Coast for part of the summer, I made a big effort to try to coordinate a reunion.

It took a ridiculously long chain of emails to set the date, and I had to leave our family vacation for a day to come back into Manhattan, but yesterday, we all met at the clock in Grand Central Station. One friend came down from Cambridge, one came in from New Jersey, where she was visiting from California.

We didn’t do much. We ate lunch, we walked around, we got some cones of Tasti-D-Lite (I had two), we wandered around a bookstore, then it was time to walk to Penn Station so our Cambridge-bound friend could catch her train home. (Random New York City mystery: how does anyone from out of town know that Penn Station is UNDER Madison Square Garden? Why aren’t there any signs?) My other friend spent the night; we watched Spinal Tap and Bladerunner and ate pizza.

The three of us haven’t seen each other much in recent years, and it was interesting to see where our relationships picked up. We spent no time reminiscing about college; we spent a little time exchanging updates about our families and various mutual friends.

Mostly, however, we talked about our lives right now. Even though we don’t play active roles in each other’s daily routines, we felt comfortable confiding in each other. Somehow, there’s a level of trust that underlies longstanding friendships that’s very hard to re-create with newer friends.

Losing a friend is very painful, even if it’s just the result of logistical difficulties, and the day reminded me that even a short visit can do a lot to keep a friendship alive.

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As I’ve noted before, I’ve joined the excellent new network, LifeRemix. I wish I could post a description of each of the member blogs, but that’s going to have to wait until I get back from vacation. My technical set-up here isn’t great.

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This Wednesday: Nine extremely simple and easy tips to take stress out of your day.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Nine extremely simple and easy tips to take a lot of stress out of your day.

When I was little, I was always puzzled by the maxim, “A stitch in time saves nine.” I couldn’t figure out what that meant. Finally, light dawned: a single stitch, made in good time, saves the trouble of making nine stitches later. In other words, a little effort now saves a lot of effort later.

That notion underlies several of the tips below. The other notion: when you have a reasonable amount of energy, life feels a lot less stressful.

1. Keep some cash in the house.
2. Never let your car’s gas level fall into the “empty” zone.
3. Have Advil (or whatever) at hand at all times.
4. Put your keys away in the same place every day.
5. Turn out the light as soon as you’re sleepy.
6. Walk around the block.
7. Take ten minutes before bed to tidy up.
8. If you have to pack a lunch for anyone, get it ready the night before.
9. Have at least one good friend who lives in the neighborhood.

Samuel Johnson pointed out that “To live in perpetual want of little things is a state, not indeed of torture, but of constant vexation.” By making the effort to stay on top of the little things, you can keep the vexation to a minimum.

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